This morning, it was discovered that Swedish police have been maintaining an extensive database of Romani people in Sweden, regardless of criminal history or suspicion. The highly illegal database includes kinship and one-quarter of the registered Romani people are children; over 50 are two-year-olds. This is a very loud warning bell of where things are heading.
This database, constructed by the Swedish police in the Scania district, was based on no other basis but the people being Romani. This was reported by the Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter today.
There are (still) strict laws in Sweden governing when the police may construct databases over people. Kinship and minority background are most distinctly not two of them. Trust in the process of law is sharply eroded when the police ignores the law to this extent, and worse, knowing that nobody will be held to account for breaking the law.
The leader of the Swedish Pirate Party, Anna Troberg, is furious, using unusually strong language: “I wake up to the news of the Police cataloging Romani. This makes me enraged to all fucking hell.”
— Anna Troberg (@annatroberg) September 23, 2013
The database of Romani has been national, attempting to catalog Romani people all over the country, and the database has been available by various means to all or most Swedish police employees. According to the Dagens Nyheter, not only Romani people have been noted in the database, but also people who have had relations to Romani.
“The database catalogs Romani children in most average Swedish cities. A two-year-old boy in Linköping and his four-year-old big sister. Two three-year-old girls in Västerås. A nine-year-old girl in Växjö. In Jönköping, there are four children in the Police database: a two-year-old boy, two eight-year-old girls, a ten-year-old girl.” — Dagens Nyheter
This cataloging gives a chilling touch of pre-WW2 history repeating itself. Anna Troberg demands answers in a press release:
“Transgressions must never pass unmarked. We must demand accountability from the individual policemen and all the way to the top. Also, we must not shy away from the unpleasant questions: what other secret databases exist in Sweden and what other minorities are being catalogued?” — Anna Troberg
Several other people are noting that Ministers of Justice have resigned for considerably less in the past.
The people in Sweden who have been discarding the NSA/GCHQ/FRA mass surveillance with a shrug and a “nothing to hide, nothing to fear” appear to be waking up to criticize this database relentlessly. I would argue that they have no moral grounds to do so whatsoever; if “nothing to hide, nothing to fear” applies to the NSA/GCHQ/FRA databases, it applies to this one too. Perhaps this is the clearest example yet why that cliché does not apply, does never apply. “Nothing to hide, nothing to fear” is dangerous, deceptive, and wrong, and if those people are sincere in their criticism, they are welcome to start criticizing the mass surveillance overall.
This catalog is merely one aspect of the mass surveillance culture.
At the end of the day, though, I can’t help thinking that we’re lucky that this particular kind of databases is still illegal. That may not be the case for much longer, seeing how NSA’s mass surveillance – assisted by the British GCHQ, the Swedish FRA, and others – appears to be legal, at least superficially legal enough for bureaucrats to defend the surveillance as legal and discard complaints.
People who have been defending the mass surveillance with the deceptive “nothing to hide, nothing to fear” are more than welcome to start discovering where that dangerous attitude is leading us. This is not going to be the last example.
This article is also available in other languages: French.